Monday, January 30, 2017

Santa Rosalia

[Maryanne]The strong winds forecast have held all week, and we've been safely secured to the dock with a spider's web of lines at Marina Fonatur here in Santa Rosalia.

The town was a purpose built mining town back in the 1800's and run by a French copper mining company. It has barely an ounce of tourist influence, with only a few restaurants even having English translations in their menus, and most people seem to know little English - so it has been good for our Spanish language attempts (and required a good deal of hilarious charade playing in the hardware and other stores).

The town is filled with simple wooden structures making it look (as Kyle said previously) like a set of a wild west movie. In the summer it can get VERY hot here, but since we're here in the winter AND waiting out some very strong winds, it is cool and blustery (we turn on the heater at night and are wearing long trousers and sleeves, and even jackets at times).

Although not a tourist town, it is a popular stop with boaters as it connects with the main road north out of Baja, and has reasonable grocery opportunities - but several years ago a major hurricane did severe damage to the town and especially the harbour area - so they are down to 1 marina with 20 slips (shared with the local Navy)

While we've been here there are only 6 visiting boats in the marina and 3 of those have the owners currently away. And for the most part we've been hunkered down and barely seen our neighbours (although we did join them for dinner at a restaurant in town and were able to glean some tips from those that have been cruising in Mexico for years).

Just because Santa Rosalia isn't a tourist oriented town, doesn't mean there isn't stuff to do. There is a great little bakery (in place since the French times). The library is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi (I was never able to establish why). Many of the mining artefacts and structures are scattered (mostly decaying) all over town, and there is even a Mining Museum (although we found it was closed for at least the next 3 months). But the most famous structure is a small metal church, a prefabricated unit, shipped here by the French and erected for the community of miners; it is famous as the design for such churches (intended to be shipped out and erected in French Africa) was an award winning design of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame). I'm not sure how many of these churches exist but a quick Google search found just this and one in the Philippines. The church here is dedicated to the St Barbara (patron saint of miners), and to be fair, there is also some dispute regarding any Eiffel connection.

In fact there was so little to fill the week we have here, that we even resorted to a trip to the cemetery. We kept ourselves occupied with chores such as cleaning the boat (and again after the dust layer was added), fixing our sea water tap at the galley sink, grocery shopping, laundry and showers.

At one point while enjoying pottering about on the boat one morning in blustery weather, we noticed a lone fisherman in an open boat (a panga) secured to a hazard marker and busy casting a net and catching fish. His boat didn't have an engine and it seemed like a pretty miserable place to be. Then the next time we glanced out, his boat was still secured to the marker (with his NETS), but the guy was missing. Oh boy. I rushed down the dock towards the Navy rescue boats and in some terrible Spanish managed to explain my concern. The Navy were amazing, they rapidly deployed a crew and boat to the harbour entrance to perform a search and rescue.. only to find the fisherman simply resting in the bottom of his boat presumably waiting for the tide to turn so he didn't have to row against it. Doh! Embarrassed me, but the Navy were very chivalrous about it all.

Navy rescue/practice

So basically we’ve had a quiet and idle 8 days, but the spare time we’ve had has been consumed with the unfurling distressing news from the USA and President Trump's chaotic and unconstitutional edicts that are wrecking the lives of many and distressing many more. I'm starting to believe that Trump and his team don't give a hoot about combating terrorism - these policies are simply a way to keep us all distracted in chaos while they grab for power and money in other areas. Sickening. Frightening. Wrong.

It has been hard to enjoy Santa Rosalia with such a backdrop and we feel uncomfortable even with the thought of travelling for fun through Mexico given the current bigger picture. Regardless, we head north on Tuesday deeper into the Sea of Cortez and hope for the best. Big respect for the many #Resist movements back in the USA.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Begonia Enters the Sea of Cortez

[Kyle]A nice tailwind assisted us leaving Bahia Santa Maria for the coastal trip to the tip of the Baja peninsula. Around sunrise the next morning, it started to die off enough to make deploying the spinnaker seem like a good idea. We had it up the whole day, flying along in light winds and beautiful flat seas.

We sailed past Cabo San Lucas and into the lee of Baja just after sunset. We switched back to our working sails for the turn upwind and ghosted past the town. Early in the morning, at San Jose del Cabo, the north wind returned in earnest and we started zigzagging our way up the Sea of Cortez on the east side of Baja. We were able to get a good enough phone signal passing San Jose Del Cabo to get an amended forecast, which indicated we would have to wait a day longer for favorable winds than the prior forecast had indicated. We decided to beat upwind just to the next protected anchorage at Los Frailes and stop there for the night until the winds got better.

We didn’t spend enough time there to go ashore or to see anything, but it was nice to be relieved of the need to keep constant watch and to be able to enjoy dinner together.

We were up early for more upwind sailing in light air. It took us another day and a half to make it as far as La Paz. There, the wind backed to the west and we were able to start pointing the direction we wanted to go, eliminating all of the extra mileage of tacking.

About midway through Maryanne’s night watch, I awoke to the sound of building wind and the rush of water streaking past the hull alongside our berth. I heard her reef sails and then reef again and the noise continued to increase. I poked my head out in the cockpit to find Maryanne struggling to lower the mainsail to the next reefing point. The mainsail is most easily reefed while the boat is pointed into the wind, but when she turned upwind, it and the chop would slow us to a crawl. The rudders would lose effectiveness and the autopilot, which had just a few seconds ago had been making small corrections for large heading changes, suddenly needed it to be the other way around. It would react too slowly and then Begonia would be blown downwind, plastering the main on the shrouds and frustrating Maryanne’s attempt to get it out of the building wind. I took over the helm and was able to keep the boat straight enough to allow her to get the sail under control.

Sailing around the tip of Baja - was not all bad at all
Dolphins, Chocolate Cake, sunsets and sunrises

The rest of her night watch was pretty bad. The seas got rougher and rougher and the wind would occasionally gust high enough to need two quick reefs to be put in in a real hurry, with fears of needing another.

It wasn’t as dramatic for me on the backside of the night, but it was still pretty uncomfortable. At least we were finally eating up the miles, but it would have been nice to find some sort of medium.

The subsequent night was more of the same. We were both getting pretty sleep deprived and sick of the conditions. When we got a new forecast for big headwinds coming in a couple of days, we were glad to pull into harbor for some rest at Santa Rosalia.

We anchored as the only boat in the basin in the calm before the storm. The next day, we checked on the rates at the marina and decided to spend out the blow there.

Santa Rosalia is a decent sized little town with a real Old West feel. We were able to stock up on a few much needed provisions as well as source some parts for some minor fix-it jobs. We also found a pretty good fish taco stand.

First views of Santa Rosalia - and with plenty of time to explore

After only a couple of days, we had walked every street at least three times and have a good feel for the place. We will likely be almost another week before the wind dies down and we’ll be able to resume our push north again, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to see all there is to see a few times over.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

South from Ensenada

[Kyle]We paid our bill at Baja Naval and left the dock around 10am. After a slight bit of motoring to get clear of the harbor entrance, we unfurled the sails and then just sat there. We were expecting this. The forecast was for very light winds. Wind was ‘due’ according to the forecasts and we wanted to be ready for when it arrived. We had the luxury of time and always try and conserve fuel where. It would likely be two thousand miles before we could pull up to a fuel pump. We may be able to go into a town on the dinghy with jerry cans before that, but that is not something that’s fun to make multiple trips for if we can avoid doing so. For the meantime, we would just be patient and wait out the lulls.

Our last morning in Ensenada - and a very quiet bay once we got out the harbor

We sat in the same spot for a couple of hours next to a flock of gulls before the lightest of breezes came up and we were able to slowly pull away from them. So long, suckers! By nightfall, we had passed through a gap separating Ensenada’s Bahia Todos Santos from the open Pacific.

Just as it was getting dark, half a dozen Humpback whales joined us, slowly going about their evening feed. They circled at a distance for a while and then went on their way. In the calm, we could hear every breath.

A night after that, we could still make out the lights on the hills above Ensenada. The clouds in the distance were lit up by Tijuana and San Diego even further. In the early hours of the next morning, the wind picked up and we were able to put some real miles behind us. We sailed the next four hundred miles well out of sight of land in almost direct tailwinds. Once or twice a day, a ship would pass by close enough to see.

Slow but pretty progress for the first few days

We had originally intended to stop at Turtle Bay and anchor for a night, but our slow progress the first couple of days made it seem more sensible to press on to our next planned stop at Bahia Santa Maria, a couple hundred miles further on. We were trying to arrive at the Sea of Cortez for a forecast period of south winds – opposite the prevailing direction.

We had been having great difficulty getting a good enough connection through our ham/SSB radio to download a forecast, and also to tell our offshore contacts about our change of destination. We were hoping we would have a good enough cell signal at anchor to update our forecast so that we could determine when was best to move on. Aboard Begonia, we can use the radio for long range voice conversations, but primarily to transmit critical emails. For the emails, the radio connects via a Pactor modem to the computer, and for years it has been frustrating and temperamental when trying to send and receive emails. There are several issues that can cause problems (e.g. signal is not good enough, the server we want to talk to won't answer, and a host of other hardware issues), but we believed the biggest issue was a power/voltage issue, if the batteries were not full and charging our modem ALWAYS seemed to lose power just as we tried to connect. Maryanne had time to so some sleuthing on this trip and finally identified a simple solution - it turns out that there are two power inputs to the modem (the second is optional and not connected, in fact we weren't even aware it existed) - she found a cable that would fit into the second power socket (one that had previously functioned to charge a spotlight) and WOW - our major problem seems to have vanished and our radio seems to be reliable and trustworthy again. Over the years, Maryanne has enlisted the help of fellow cruisers, been on long calls with radio experts, and nobody even suggested or hinted that a second power input would solve the problem - she is a genius! {Maryanne: better late than never, but this makes a HUGE difference to our peace of mind at sea}

As we approached Bahia Santa Maria, our wind finally started to taper off. In order to avoid another night at sea, we deployed the spinnaker, which had us pulling into the bay around noon (although our chart depths did not seem to match reality once we arrived). We set the anchor, ran the checklist, and went for an afternoon nap which we were most ready for after 7 days at sea and on watches.

About half an hour later, there was a knock on our hull. We groggily surfaced. One of the other boats anchored nearby stopped in to introduce themselves. There were two folks in the visiting dinghy (Richard and Denis) with another two back at the boat, Ebenezer III (Octavia and Rick). Ebenezer III had done the Baja Haha rally in November, and was now doing the long, upwind trip back to Sausalito, ducking in to anchor when conditions got too rough.

They arrived with a gift of a Mako Shark (also know as a bonito), and some chowder too. They had earlier asked one of the local pangueros (the fishermen that use the local 'Panga', and open boat or skiff used widely here) for a couple fillets and he threw them a four-foot Mako shark. They used what they could, but still had a third left over. They offered it to us. We happily (if somewhat nervously) took it. (Maryanne served us up steaks, and later was able to turn it into a coconut fish curry. This, along with the fish chowder Ebenezer III also gave us, kept us fed for four days!). It was nice to have guests visit and they were such good company we were happy to delay our naps; we must have seemed OK company to them too, as they invited us to visit their boat the following evening for drinks – wow, we have a busy social life all of a sudden!

Kyle finally feels retired and relaxed AND we have a shark to deal with - another first!

The next morning, we were just out of bed starting in on our late morning coffees when a squall passed through and it started to rain hard. A couple of minutes after that, the Ebenezer III dinghy knocked on our hull again, this time with Richard and Octavia. They had been exploring the mangroves in glorious sunshine but were now rapidly getting soaked in their dinghy, so of course we invited them aboard where we chatted easily until it passed. We had lots to chat about as we’d all lived around San Francisco Bay and It turns out Octavia was British and had studied, like Maryanne, at St Andrews University.

The wonderful company aboard Ebenezer III

Richard, the owner and Captain, was concerned about the weather going north. We had a decent signal on our phones, so we were able to download some high quality forecasts, which allowed us to go back and forth about their options. He decided they would leave during a lull early the next morning.

To save us having to deploy our dinghy, Richard offered to pick us up later on for the long ride to his boat in his dinghy. Great!

As the afternoon came to a close, we noticed them heading out. The wind was already dying down and we figured they must have been getting a jump on it. Instead, they dropped anchor right behind us. This would make their dinghy ride nice and short for our pickup. They were eager to prepare for their departure the next day and called us on the radio to see if we wouldn’t mind getting an early jump on our visit. Sure!

We met them again with a just-downloaded forecast and then headed over for an evening of wine and story swapping. When darkness fell, we took an hour saying goodbye and then they shuttled us home so they could continue their departure preparations. Their kindness and great company will be forever memorable, and we hope we didn’t keep them up too late.

The next morning, we emerged from bed to beautiful blue skies. Ebenezer III was long gone. The last of the other two boats in the anchorage was just pulling up anchor and heading south. Begonia had the whole twelve-mile long bay to ourselves. We were finally caught up on sleep and were able to have a refreshingly lazy day stretching the few minor things we had to do into a whole day.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Returning to Mexico

Family Time over Christmas
[Kyle]After many weeks in Arizona soaking up some Mom time, and filling up on holiday foods, the holidays were over and it was time for me and Maryanne to pack up and leave her and Darren to head back to Begonia.

Even though we had all known our departure was coming for a while, as the day neared, it seemed to rush toward us at an ever-increasing pace. Our last night there, on Boxing Day, we all had a good hug and cry over it.

My retirement finally made it possible for us to sail anywhere we wished. However, now we were going to be really far away and would also be without flight benefits (or money) to maintain our former visit frequency of a few times per year. Our next trip to Mom’s would instead likely be several years from now. It was good to be heading back to the boat to resume the adventure, but this time we were all feeling a keener sense of the loss of each other.

We sneaked out of the house when everyone was still sleeping. We had an uneventful drive to San Diego, where I dropped Maryanne and our bags at the border to wait while I returned the car to the airport.

The border crossing was without incident. We walked a couple of blocks past a bunch of cab drivers who really wanted to give us a ride to the bus station, where we boarded the bus to Ensenada. Two hours later, we were in the yard climbing the stairs into Begonia’s cockpit.

The alternating rain and dust in our absence had coated her with streaks of fine mud. She was clean inside, though, until we put down our stuff. Well, that was it – we felt like we were in the yard again.

The next day, we got everything stowed and hosed all of the dust off. That’s better! Except that we still have to get dressed and walk to the bathrooms if we need a midnight pee.

Then came time for last minute provisioning. We were going to be some indeterminately long time before we could get to good stores again, so we spent almost a whole day making our way through a whole host of grocery stores in search of everything for which we might possibly have a need. This beats dismantling an engine, but it still stands squarely on the not fun side of the fun/not fun line.

A lot of people have been asking me how I’m enjoying retirement. So far, it’s a lot of days like this, so I’m still not sure. I am enjoying not having to get flights to work or having my nice schedule arbitrarily turned into an awful one because there’s a cloud in Newark, but I feel like I have yet to realize what it’s like to have a nice lazy day as if it were Sunday, except that it’s Wednesday.

The first thing the next morning, it was time to put Begonia back in the water. She was clean and stocked and ready to go. We had a few last minute things to do once she was in, then we were looking forward to a nice walk along the paseo.

I started the engines, mostly to clear the air out of the cooling water system. Sometimes it loses its prime after a haulout and I have to go bleed the system to get it flowing. There were no problems this time. I slowly increased the rpm to our normal cruise setting, checking on the engines every couple of minutes to see that everything looked fine. After about fifteen minutes, as I checked on the port engine, I found the high-pressure fuel line between the secondary filter and the injector pump had sprung a leak. Fuel was spraying all over the engine compartment. I shut down the engine and closed the shutoff valve. There was a huge mess to clean up and now we couldn’t use that engine or our heat until the line was replaced. Our nice afternoon was canceled. I would be removing the offending part from its difficult to access position while Maryanne called all over town (and the internet) looking for a replacement.

Finally back in the water - only to have a new problem - Doh!
To make matters worse, it was the Friday afternoon before the New Year’s Day long weekend. If she couldn’t find anything, we’d be stuck for a week.

She didn’t find anything.

On New Year’s Eve, it was cold and very rainy all day. We stayed in bed late, mainly because it was warmer there, then we spent the remainder of the day trying to heat up the boat with a lot of steamy cooking while the town skipped it’s celebrations and also hid inside.

Rain slashed at the boat until well into the morning the next day. When it stopped, the whole town flooded onto the waterfront to enjoy their day off. There were no cruise ships docked, so it was just us and half a million Mexicans.

Since Monday the 2nd was a holiday too, we weren’t able to resume our part search until the following day. We found someone who could hopefully have the part in by the end of the week, which left us the rest of the time to do tourist stuff.

We toured museums, visited a good microbrewery (Wendlandt) and also made it to a winery (Santo Tomas) that had some surprisingly good wine. On our last full day in Ensenada, we even rented a car. This made some of the errands we had to do a lot easier, but also gave us time to drive into the nearby wine country (the Guadeloupe Valley where we toured and tasted at L.A. Cetto, and then went on to dine at Hacienda Guadeloupe). We had a great time. The wines were all good, the facilities would not look out of place in Napa, and the scenery was beautiful.

While we had the car we also visited the local 'blowhole' La Bufadora which it seems everyone who visits Ensenada must visit.  The day we arrived the weather was too calm to show off the full force (it is the 2nd largest in the world), but it was the half mile gauntlet of vendors we were required to pass through that tainted the whole experience.  Apparently everyone who goes to visit this natural feature, also requires Tequila, a new handbag and a stash of Viagra and the vendors are quite insistent.


Out and about (on the sunny days) around Ensenada
On the rainy days we hunkered down with Netflix and wondered when our parts would arrive!

I may finally be starting to feel retired!

[Maryanne]We’re also determined to embrace the fact that there is ‘different’ food in Mexico – both in the restaurants and grocery stores, and we want to try a little of everything (although to date the various offals are NOT included in the experimentation). I’ve purchased and cooked up cactus paddles (called nopales here in Mexico). We’ve discovered a great new hot chocolate drink we love (which includes corn flour, giving a a delicious malty taste) called champurrado, and been sampling the street food here too – so far, so good.

Sampling the food in Mexico

One of the pictures above also showcases a new item that has found its way aboard Begonia - a butcher block - this did not come from Mexico but was hand made by Darren (Kyle’s brother) to fit perfectly over our tiny little galley sinks (a Christmas gift); beautiful quality and wonderfully useful - it brings a smile to my face every time I use it.